Monday, April 28, 2014

JAMES BALDWIN: THE FIRE NEXT TIME



A recent article in the New York Times lamented how the American author James Baldwin was not read as much he was in the past, particularly in schools. Baldwin was an African American novelist, playwright and essayist. Born in 1924, he grew up in Harlem and experienced the difficulties of being Black in an America that was segregated. Race informs his work, as does the fact that Baldwin was gay. As a teenager he started meeting artists and intellectuals in Greenwich Village and he realized he could be a writer. Baldwin moved to Paris, where his writing career began and he spent most of his life. He died in 1987.

The Monrovia Public Library owns many of James Baldwin’s works. Baldwin lived in a certain time in American history and took his inspiration from what he saw and experienced. This is a great time to re-read him or discover his work for the first time.

His first play was The Amen Corner, about an African American church and the pastor’s family who served it. The play, Blues for Mister Charlie, took its inspiration from the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

One of Baldwin’s best known essay collections is The Fire Next Time, written in 1963. It implores all Americans to challenge racism. Although some thought it incendiary, it sparked discussions about what was needed to ramp up the civil rights movement.  

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone is a novel about an actor whose heart attack causes him to contemplate his own being and his place in the world. The novel Another Country takes place in the cities Baldwin personally knew best and challenges the reader to think about how people can define themselves and don’t always have to be defined by race, gender and orientation.




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

G IS FOR SUE GRAFTON



Sometimes as readers, we think we can't begin a book series that's been around for awhile. But all it takes is one book to spark our interest and away we go. Sue Grafton started her alphabet mystery series in 1982 with A is for Alibi and went on to B is for Burglar, before writing titles for most of the letters. At the time few books had female detectives and Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone was a revelation—a private investigator who is both witty and wily. 
 
Bestselling authors are frequently asked where they got their start. Ms. Grafton said she grew up an unhappy kid, reading mysteries to escape. As a young woman she worked in clerical jobs and wrote, but was unsuccessful getting her early novels published. Fifteen years as a television screenwriter taught her to compose compelling plots and she was finally able to attract a publisher. Set in the fictional town of Santa Teresa, modeled after Santa Barbara, Grafton’s books have crisp dialogue and are fast paced. She has sold millions of books, published in 28 languages.

Grafton has completed 23 letters of the alphabet and the Monrovia Library has the entire series, including the latest, W is for Wasted. Kinsey digs into two deaths—one of a colleague and the other of an unknown man whom the coroner cannot identify.   

Any ideas for Grafton’s next title?  X is for Xerox? X is for Xylophone?  I'm sure it'll be worth the wait. In the meantime, you might try the author’s autobiography, Kinsey and Me, which mixes memoir with short fiction.



 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

WORD OF MOUTH: A GOOD WAY TO FIND GREAT BOOKS



Where do you find the titles of books to read? Are you a newspaper reader who likes bestseller lists?  Are you a devotee of book blogs (like the one you are reading) or to Amazon reviews?  Maybe friends, family or book group members are your best source. Word of mouth, finding out what others are reading, is a great way to learn about books and authors.  Here are three novels on the lips of readers and also on the shelves at the Monrovia Pubic Library. Interestingly, they all involve children who have lost their biological parents. 

The Language of Flowers by Jennifer Diffenbaugh is an unusual book which mixes floral interpretation and a dramatic storyline about a foster child. Young Victoria has spent most of her life in foster care, except for the time she spent with someone who taught her about plants and whom she thought would adopt her. Now a young woman and working in a flower shop, Victoria finds that she cannot escape her difficult past, but can eventually look to a happier future. A reader recently said, “I would have never have picked up The Language of Flowers had not someone recommended it to me.”

Set after World War I, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman is about a couple who live on an isolated island in Australia. He is a lighthouse keeper and she is a woman who yearns for a child. When a boat washes ashore containing a dead man and a healthy baby, the couple takes the child as their own. It's not until they move to the mainland that the couple experience the heartbreaking repercussions of their actions. 

Have you ever heard of the Orphan Train Movement? From 1853-1929 this program took orphaned and homeless children from Eastern cities to foster families in the Midwest. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is the story of Molly, a young woman living in a foster home, and Vivian, an older woman.  The two exchange stories and their lives juxtapose as Vivian tells the story of being taken on the Orphan Train and Molly talks about her current and difficult situation. Several people have said that Orphan Train is one of their favorite books.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TOMATOMANIA!



Who doesn't love fresh tomatoes right out of the garden? Instead of buying those tasteless tomatoes from the market, isn’t it time to plant your own? The Monrovia Public Library has a wonderful gardening book collection and there are several terrific titles on growing tomatoes.
 
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening tells which vegetables to grow together to control pests, nourish the soil and have a bumper crop of tomatoes and other veggies. A great book for beginners, it has a nice format and easy to understand charts.

How do you know which types of tomatoes to plant? A Celebration of Heirloom Vegetables and The Total Tomato: America’s Backyard Experts Reveal the Pleasures of Growing Tomatoes at Home will help you pick different varieties with different tastes, sizes and colors. 

Look to Michelle Obama’s American Grown: The Story of the White House Garden and Gardens Across America for inspiration. See how a tomato and vegetable garden can transform you and your family.

Some of us just aren’t quite ready to get our hands dirty and prefer to read books about growing tomatoes—like people who read cookbooks, instead of cooking. The book for you is The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. This is the hilarious memoir of someone who realizes that his pursuit of an organic garden, including paying for a landscape contractor; buying an electric fence to keep out deer and spending mountains of money on seeds meant that each tomato he grew cost $64.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Share a your love of reading with the Novel T’s Book Club



The Novel T’s Book Club meets at the Monrovia Library Community Room every 4th Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. to discuss literary works selected by the members, with a representation of both fiction and non-fiction. The Novel T’s discussed the Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in March. This timeless work of gothic fiction was named one of the best works of the last century, and continues to be popular.
 
 


Our April 22 discussion features Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This book binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge. At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world. The lives lived there are filled with all the grand human drama – desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love. At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her. The changes of a lounge musician haunted by a past romance, a former student who has lost the will to live, Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities, and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. 

Looking ahead, the May discussion title is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Refreshments will be served based on the theme of the book. All are welcome to join the Novel T’s!